ONE of the main users of Thornbury’s Armstrong Hall has called on newly-elected Thornbury town councillors to help reopen the venue.
Several of the new councillors elected in May have told the Voice they support plans to get the hall complex back in action as soon as possible.
Now Thornbury Musical Theatre Group has written an open letter, signed by 250 people, calling on councillors to take action before arts in the town fade away.
The group used to stage three large productions a year in the Armstrong Hall, including a sell-out pantomime, but in recent times have had to use out-of-town venues. Its next big show, Sister Act, which will be performed at the Olympus Theatre in Stoke Gifford in October.
The letter calls on Thornbury Town Council and representatives of the Armstrong Trust “to work together to solve the acute problem of the very large hole left in the cultural life of Thornbury caused by the closure of the Armstrong Hall Complex in 2020”.
It continues: “Our rapidly-growing community is much the poorer for the lack of this facility, and the creative forces that have long existed in the Thornbury population are in danger of fading away.
“A viability study has shown that the Armstrong Hall Complex can be run successfully with a different management structure and outward-looking approach.
“It is not too late to bring the complex back to life, but this is now extremely urgent.
“The previous town council, as sole trustee, showed a complete lack of ambition and demonstrated a narrow and secretive approach towards the issue, and we call upon you as a new group of individuals to do much better.”
The Armstrong and Cossham Halls were closed at the start of the pandemic three years ago, and never re-opened.
The Armstrong Hall Trust, whose only member is Thornbury Town Council, said essential building work has left it no longer financially viable, and said it was considering selling the site and using the money to build a new theatre beside Turnburrie’s Community Centre, in Bath Road.
But the Armstrong Hall Action Alliance (AHAA), set up by residents to save the complex, wants the Trust to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), so others can join the board and progress the plan.
They believe the complex could be restored for £200,000 and re-opened.
TMTG Secretary Geoffrey Kitchen said: “Before covid we had a vibrant and creative arts community. Now we are forced to look for other venues away from the town, when we need these shows to be community-based.
“It’s all about the health of the community.
“The Armstrong Hall will bring people to Thornbury as a destination. We need the new councillors to take this issue seriously, as a matter of urgency.”
Several of the new councillors told the Voice they broadly support reopening Armstrong Hall, if it could be made viable.
Newly-elected independent town councillor John Reynolds said a Community Interest Company made up of interested people from the town could take over.
He said: “As soon as there is a CIC, (and the council does currently interact with other CICs), then matters can take a major step forward.”
New Lib Dem councillor Mark Oaten said the issue had taken far too long to resolve.
He said: “I understand the issues are complex but now the new council must work with everyone to find a fast solution.
“I hope the hall can be opened but if the costs are too high then we urgently need a fantastic new option.
“It’s time for strong leadership to bring the community together and make Thornbury a place to be proud to live and visit.”
Jill Dimond, from the AHAA, said they were encouraged by the support of new councillors.
She said: “We feel confident that they will try to play their part in getting things changed urgently.
“We’re keen for the trustee to engage with us in a fully-costed business study for reopening the Armstrong Hall and Cossham Hall site and running it as a community business, treasuring its historic purpose and the endowment to the town.
“We want to see a much greater offering for residents in the area, and we want to make Thornbury a more attractive venue for those from further afield, to the benefit of all.”
No-one from the Armstrong Hall Trust was available to comment before the Voice went to press.